HomeCar CultureMercedes showcases 120 years of history in racing

Mercedes showcases 120 years of history in racing


, Mercedes showcases 120 years of history in racing, ClassicCars.com Journal
Alfred Vacheron’s Mercedes-powered car participates in the first automobile race, a reliability run from Paris to Rouen on July 22, 1894 | Mercedes-Benz Classic

Editor’s note: As part of the centennial of its historic 1-2-3 sweep of the 1914 French Grand Prix, Mercedes-Benz has provided the following summary of its 120-year history in auto racing competition and the accompanying photos:

From history’s first automobile race in 1894 to its various contemporary involvements in motor sports, victories by the racing and rally cars from Merceds-Benz are a testimony to innovative technology, the drivers’ will to win and efficient teamwork.

Outstanding moments in the brand’s racing history include:

  • participation in the world’s first car race in 1894,
  • the first Grand Prix victory of a Mercedes at the Nice Race Week in 1901,
  • the 1-2-3 finish of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in the Grand Prix of Lyon in 1914,
  • the age of the supercharged cars after 1922,
  • above all, the era of the Silver Arrows before and after the Second World War
1-2-3 sweep at the Nurburgring in 1952
1-2-3 sweep at the Nurburgring in 1952

These, as well as rally races and several record-setting speed runs, are the foundations of the current success in Formula 1, the DTM (German Touring Car Masters) and customer sport.

Use this link to see a gallery of 10 highlights of Mercedes’ early racing history.

“Involvement in motor sport cannot be seen in isolation from the work that is being done every day in laboratories, workshops and factory buildings,” Mercedes said in its 120 years of racing news release.

“There are close links between motor sport and first-class products in all other areas that work in both directions: knowledge gained from the development of competition vehicles is transferred to series production – and vice versa.


Many technical innovations that open up new avenues in automotive engineering have their roots in pioneering developments from motor sport engineers.”

— Mercedes-Benz


[/pullquote]“The skills of the engineers acquired from working on the comprehensive product range of the global brand Mercedes-Benz and its predecessor companies provides inspiration for improving the racing cars. This direct exchange of technology and engineering know-how was particularly evident during the early decades of motor sport.

“In a broader context, this mutual exchange still applies today… Engineering expertise in motor sport pairs up with the passion for sporting competition. Customer preferences and markets are changing in the global environment and the company constantly adapts to these changes. Many technical innovations that open up new avenues in automotive engineering have their roots in pioneering developments from motor sport engineers…

“Without the backing of the team and the brand neither the best drivers nor the best racing cars can win. In motor sports every race therefore demonstrates anew that it is the collective input that makes the difference between success and failure. The team, the technology and the tactics must dovetail smoothly.

Stirling Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson win the Mille Miglia in 1955
Stirling Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson win the Mille Miglia in 1955

“Consequently the significance and fascination of the races does not end with the checkered flag: a brand that fully commits itself to motor sports and wins victories worldwide as Mercedes-Benz does promotes its products far beyond the confines of the racing circuit. This is zat Mercedes-Benz and was also appreciated by its predecessor brands: the Benz annual report of 1907/08 stated: “We consider the extra cost of racing an absolute necessity to defend the position befitting our make in international competition.”

Mercedes’ anniversary news release notes that auto racing was born 120 years ago in France, and that the “System Daimler” – a two-cylinder V-engine built in France under license from Gottlieb Daimler’s original plans – powered the victorious automobiles from Peugeot and Panhard & Levassor. Vehicles powered by Daimler engines took the top positions in the world’s first races from Paris to Rouen (1894) and Paris–Bordeaux–Paris (1895).

Soon, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and Benz & Cie. were involved in racing, with the first Mercedes winning at the Nice Race Weeks in 1901-1903 and that the 200-hp Benz racing car — the famed “Blitzen Benz” (Lightning Benz) was the first automobile to break the 200 km/h (125-mph) speed barrier, which it did in 1909.

DMG won the Grand Prix in Dieppe in 1908, with a pair of cars from Benz finishing second and third (the companies were rivals at this point, but later would merge). DMG also posted the first 1-2-3 sweep of a race in 1914 in the French Grand Prix at Lyon.

The amalgamation of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. in 1926 to form Daimler Benz AG also merged the successful motor sport activities of the two brands. This era of the late 1920s was dominated by the supercharged Mercedes-Benz sports cars, which won all major events.

The S-Series cars were known as the “White Elephants.” Next came the famed Silver Arrows, with Rudolf Caracciola driving a short-wheelbase SSK to victory in the Mille Miglia in 1931.

The era of the Silver Arrows lasted from the 1930s to 1955, interrupted by the Second World War. Brand historians use the name Silver Arrows to refer to a whole family of racing cars, record-breaking vehicles and racing sports cars .

Before the war Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows dominated the European Grands Prix. In 1952, the brand returned to motor sport with the 300 SL racing sports car. Formula One championships were produced in 1954 and 1955 and the sports car world championship was added in 1955.

Juan Manuel Fangio wins the 1955 Belgian Grand Prix
Juan Manuel Fangio wins the 1955 Belgian Grand Prix

To focus on the development of new passenger cars, the Stuttgart-based brand withdrew from motor sport for several years. However, private teams, with support from Mercedes-Benz, continued racing and had a strong presence on the international victory podiums. A range of different vehicles made their mark in various competitions: in the early 1960s, the “Tailfin” saloons and the 230 SL dominated international rallying. The G-Model won the Paris–Dakar rally in 1983. Heavy-duty commercial vehicles from Mercedes-Benz were equally successful at rally races, endurance runs, and in the European Truck Racing Championship.

In addition to these racing cars and racing sports cars, the company produced record-breaking vehicles. Some were based on research vehicles, such as the C 111 (C 111–II D of 1976 to C 111–IV of 1979). Others were derived from production vehicles, such as the 1983 Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16, which set three world records and nine best-in-class records in Nardò in southern Italy.

In the late 1980s, Mercedes-Benz returned to circuit motor sport and won two Group C racing sports car world championships. At the same time, the brand also competed in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and later in the International Touring Car Championship (ITC). Between 1986 and 1996 Mercedes-Benz won three championships and was runner-up four times.

Since 2000, Mercedes-Benz has competed in the reorganized DTM, racing to overall victory in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006. In 2003, the team claimed the first three places, with Bernd Schneider as the overall champion. Mercedes-Benz repeated this triumph in the 2010 season with Paul di Resta as the winner.

Jochen Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens win at Le Mans in 1989
Jochen Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens win at Le Mans in 1989

After celebrating major victories in Group C racing and in the DTM in the early 1990s, Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 in 1994 – at first via the teams Sauber-Mercedes (1994) and McLaren-Mercedes (since 1995). During this period world championship titles were won by Mika Häkkinen twice (1998 and 1999) and Lewis Hamilton once (2008) and Team West-McLaren-Mercedes won a constructors’ title (1998). Mercedes-Benz also finished as the runner-up 10 times.

A new era dawned in 2010: Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 with its own works team.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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